Hi there! You might remember me from such contentious rebuilds as “The Buffalo Sabres”, and… no that’s the only one really. I drove the Sabres tank and I’d drive it again if the same situation presented itself. The Sabres tank was a perfect storm of guaranteed talent for an achievable result. Everything that’s happened since the tank is up for debate, but the tank itself isn’t.
As you read this article please understand that this is not so much an argument that the Bills should tank, but rather a broad look that indicates to me that things could be lining up that way.
If you own the team... isn't this a conversation you have?
The Bills, owners of a 17 year playoff drought, seem to be in a spot that isn’t that hard to compare to the Sabres pre-tank. The drought hangs over the franchise, clouding our vision sometimes on what the goal should ultimately be. The Bills have been slapping band-aids on middling teams hoping to get hot and finally kill off that playoff drought. Bills fans often look at the Chiefs and the life they live. During the regular season we envy Kansas City. Then the playoffs roll around and we’re reminded that they’re really not much further along than Buffalo. Is that a better life than ours? Probably, but it’s still well short of the big win.
The Pegulas do not have an impressive win-loss record as sports owners, but it’s fairly clear that they’re in it for the long term, and want to build with that mindset. They set out to turn Buffalo into more of a destination for youth hockey players, something that has most certainly been a success. While we ultimately care about wins and losses, as we should, there are other investments into the big picture that should indicate they plan ahead and think big.
Let’s play a quick game. Who said this:
"We’re not looking to just make the playoffs. We want to build this from the foundation up, a team that can consistently compete for championships."
A) Former Sabres President Ted Black
B) Current Bills GM Doug Whaley
The answer is B, but it takes you right back to the Sabres build, doesn’t it?
Days after telling the assembled media that he believed the Bills to be “close”, Whaley changed his tune and sounded like a pre-tank Sabres employee talking about championships. Plural.
Ted Black famously said on our airwaves that the Sabres COULD gun for 8th place, but that's not what they were interested in anymore. It sure seems like this is Whaley's new approach as well.
So should the Bills tank?
IF, and that’s a big if, you want the Bills to tank you’re probably looking at three things:
There really aren’t any expectations for Sean McDermott. He’s never been a head coach in the NFL, so we don’t have a record to hold against him. Rex’s arrival in Buffalo brought with it expectations to have a dominant defense. The Bills had the talent, and Ryan had the resume. It was reasonable to expect the Bills to be good on that side of the ball. Ryan made promises about the product and the playoffs and failed to deliver on either. Sean McDermott will make no big bold promise. His defense enters next year with what expectations? Stephon Gilmore will likely leave. What ranking would you take from the defense to think that McDermott is on the right track? Top 5? Top….15? It will likely be talked about as a work in progress. There will be no reports of “playoffs or else” because no one would believe those. Frankly, he doesn’t have to win at all in his first year.
In 2017 the Bills are scheduled to play:
Oh yeah, and Tom Brady twice. For a moment, let’s pretend that he’s mortal, bleeds, and might want to retire at some point. Please… just go with me on this. I promise you, he will retire at some point. I think. Ok, moving on….
The division is off the table. Why put so much into being as good as you can this year? As long as he’s around, they’re winning the division. So…effectively sit a year out on the drought-obsession and build for the future. Let the Patriots, and their obnoxious way, culture itself to another division title. A team that is building for the long term in the AFC East should be aiming to be the team that comes out on top in the post-Brady era. The Patriots' dominance has been the defining characteristic of the AFC East, and it’s one that will soon expire. If I’m running the Bills I’m trying to find a way to be the one that comes out with the best QB. The Patriots are looking to trade Jimmy Garoppolo, and if they are successful in pulling that off, they have ZERO plan at QB going forward. I’m sure they’ll call Satan and make another deal that gets them a 6th round QB that comes in and redefines greatness at the position. The schedule just serves to show you that they’ll probably miss the playoffs as presently constructed. Of course, everything changes with the right QB and that brings us to….
3. The looming call on QB
All of this assumes that the Bills don’t plan on taking a QB with the 10th pick. We’d all agree that’s possible, but I’m not sure too many Bills fans would call it likely. If the Bills take one of the top guys in this year's draft, I'll be thrilled. I won't pretend to know whether or not the guy is going to be any good, but I'll be happy that they're taking a swing. If they come out of the draft without a highly touted QB, then I think this tank scenario becomes more and more likely....and by all accounts the 2018 Draft is looking niiiiiiiice for QB prospects:
The Bills could bring back Tyrod Taylor or find a cheaper bridge-guy, like Nick Foles. Even if they get average-to-good play at the QB position, how many wins would you expect them to get? Where does a Bills team with a limited QB and this defense top out? What’s the point of targeting the 2018 draft if you’re not going to have a plan on where your pick is in 2018. You might not have to be picking #1, but you’re going to want to be pretty close to the top.
A new coach with a bad defense that’s likely losing a big piece, uncertainty at QB, a murderous schedule, a division that’s off the table, and a top-heavy QB class in the upcoming draft…
Sooooo….Are we lining up for a ta-- Err... Long build?
*Note - We know players don’t tank. Teams do.
Ok, now set fire to the comments section!!!!